Folks: this past week was the longest week of my year so far. Coming down off the high that was Spring Break 2016 and all the funtimes that involved, this week was like a five day hangover. Now that it’s Friday again I feel like I can just about make it through…wait, it’s the weekend again! Never mind, everything’s fine, forget I mentioned it. Let’s just go through a quick summary of the great things that helped me get through the past week.
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I had been looking forward to this week’s New Comic Book Day with a lot more anticipation than normal. I mean, I am a fan of New Comic Book Day in general, but this week was the debut of the new Black Panther series, so my excitement had hit extreme levels. As long-time readers of this column may remember, I love the Black Panther, and this new series has a very impressive pedigree. The writer is Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist, author, and 2015 MacArthur Genius Grant winner, making his comics debut. The artist is Brian Stelfreeze, whose work on the Catwoman/Demon story in Wednesday Comics was one of the highlights of a series that was chock full of great comics art. And the colours are by Laura Martin, who has worked on titles like The Authority, Planetary, JLA, and Astonishing X-Men, and whose name is basically a guarantee of quality. With a roster like that working on one of my favourite Marvel characters, the book had a lot to live up to.
For the most part, it absolutely did. Coates writes a comic that doesn’t feel like any comic book I’ve ever read before; sometimes it feels like a tv script converted to work on the comic book page, with odd pacing and leaps between different subplots. It’s a very intriguing introduction to the new world of the Black Panther, establishing relationships new and old and setting up a host of characters to let the reader know that yes, this book is going to have superheroic adventures and explosions but it’s also going to be a thoughtful study of personal and political responsibility at the same time. And whenever the plot starts feeling a little lost, the art more than makes up for it. Stelfreeze and Martin’s work on Black Panther features slick designs and powerful images, with thick inks and a deep colour palate that emphasize the emotion of the story. It’s a hell of a first issue from an assured team and I’m really excited to see where they take this story and how they re-establish the Black Panther as a character for a more self-aware and discerning comics-reading audience.
I had known about My Bloody Valentine for years but never thought they would be a group that would speak to me, but when I read about them in Steven Shaviro’s Doom Patrols — a book that I am almost certainly going to write more about here when I finally finish it — I decided to finally give their 1991 album Loveless a shot. One of these days I’m going to learn to not judge a book by its cover or a band by their name, because dang it, My Bloody Valentine is amazing. Loveless is a collage of noise and melody that folds over itself multiple times, a fuzzy noise-rock album that reminds me of early Sonic Youth smashed up with Cocteau Twins. The barely-audible drums, the muffled and distorted vocals, the wave after wave of sonic dissonance creating a beautiful, fragile melody: it’s almost too much for me to bear at times. And Shaviro writes so much more eloquently about My Bloody Valentine than I do, so I know just how mediocre my analysis of the band is in comparison, so if any of that sounded like something that intrigues you, I urge you very strongly to check it out. I dismissed them for years to my detriment; don’t make the same mistake that I did.
Speaking of things that are probably a hard sell: The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard is a collection of all 30 of the master writer’s short stories that were originally published in pulp Western magazines. I’m a fan of Leonard’s crime fiction work from way back, but my knowledge of his Western work is far more limited. Most of these stories are little firecrackers: in ten or fifteen pages the reader is presented with simple but effective tales of human determination, frailty, and transformation. One of Leonard’s great strengths as a writer is his ability to create well-rounded and believable characters, and he infuses these short stories with simple character sketches that nonetheless ring emotionally true. Sometimes the ugly racist and sexist aspects of the genre rise to the survace and make the stories a little less palatable, but it happens a lot less often in this collection than I had feared, and mainly only in the earlier stories. Once Leonard gets his legs underneath him, these stories become much less predictable and the characters more complex. It’s a collection of stories, so it’s naturally going to be uneven, but some of the stories such as “3:10 to Yuma” and “The Longest Day of His Life” are true classics that I will revisit again and again.
On the surface, the webseries Things I Bought At Sheetz is an absolute joke: Justin McElroy (of the podcasts My Brother, My Brother and Me, Sawbones, and The Adventure Zone) buys a food item from the “restaurant-slash-gas-station” Sheetz, and his friend Dwight Slappe watches him eat it and guesses what he thinks of it. Yes. It’s that silly a concept. But the episodes are only five minutes long, and so I watched four or five of them, and when I finally realized what was happening, I was hooked. It’s more like a sketch comedy show that has the framework of “stupid internet video” and it’s honestly a work of bizarre genius. I laughed so hard at a couple of the episodes that my stomach hurt, and I rarely laugh aloud when I’m by myself. I can’t give it any higher praise than that.
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That’s going to do it for me this week, folks. I’m going to be at GOBFest this weekend, playing all kinds of board games and having a blast. If you read this column and are also attending, come by and get your free high five! I’ll be gentle, because I don’t want to hurt your dice-rolling hand. Until next time, just power through, friends. Power through. I’ll see you in seven days.